by Nellie Akalp
The numbers are impressive: more than 11.6 million U.S. firms are owned by women, employing nearly 9 million people and generating $1.7 trillion in sales as of 2017. Want more? According to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) study cited earlier, one in five firms with revenue of $1 million or more is woman-owned. So why do women business owners still sometimes feel like their businesses are not always taken seriously?
Maybe because it’s true. A recent Freshbooks study found women business owners pay themselves an average of 28% less than their male counterparts. That’s due in part to 1) having to charge less than their male counterparts in order to attract customers and 2) not being taken as seriously as their male peers.
No matter what your industry, as a woman entrepreneur you’re going to face challenges your male peers will not. A 99 Designs survey found that although men and women may approach business in the same way, the results are often not the same—especially when it comes to funding. Men are twice as likely to raise at least $100K or more in funding than women, the survey found. Less funding means less ability to hire and grow.
Most women entrepreneurs know they have to work harder to get clients, at least at the outset. But there are other tactics I’ve used in the past to make sure my male peers know that my business and I deserve respect.
- Change the language. Have you ever been overlooked or ignored in a meeting? In any group discussion, there are social dynamics determining who is being listened to and who is being shut out. Men have no problem being overbearing and loud to get attention, but if a woman acts the same way, she’s perceived as bossy and presumptuous. Try changing the way you speak to be more assertive. Use phrases such as “I strongly recommend…” and “My plan is …” to get noticed for what you say and not how you say it.
- Create valuable connections. It’s always been true in business: It’s not what you know but who you know. Making the right connections and turning those connections into referrals is a great way to overcome any barriers to being taken seriously. Having others vouch for your work can have a huge influence on getting new clients. Actively seek out valuable connections by joining trade groups, attending networking events and asking for introductions. Join women’s groups like NAWBO and Women’s Business Enterprise (WBENC). Chances are you’ll meet someone who knows the buyer you want to meet with. The more connections you make in your industry, the better chance you have of finding the people who can help you succeed.
- Own your accomplishments. In general, men and women start businesses in the same industries (with the exception of the arts and healthcare, which are primarily women-owned and run). Therefore, there’s no reason you shouldn’t shout your successes every chance you get. Besides marketing your business to the hilt, it’s important to become a prominent name in your field. Today it’s crucial to be knowledgeable about and visible on social media. Figure out which platforms most of your customers are on and get in their feeds. You can also reach out to social media influencers (people with a large number of followers) and offer to share your expertise with their audience. Market yourself to podcasters as an interview subject or panel guest; record webinars for your website and other websites.
Remember, you are your business’s best spokesperson. Getting your face, your ideas and your knowledge out in public will go a long way to help your business be taken seriously.